WASHINGTON (Feb. 9)
A U.S. airline and three West European carriers paid millions of dollars to Palestinian terrorists in the 1970s not to hijack or attack their planes, an expert on terrorism said Thursday.
Neil Livingstone, a professor of national security studies at Georgetown University and president of the private Institute on Terrorism and Subnational Conflicts, would not reveal the names of the airliners that paid the “protection money” to an arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
A former adviser to congressional committees and airlines, Livingstone would not confirm whether any of the airlines flew to Israel, but he said the extortion money was no longer being paid.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration denied any knowledge of protection money being paid, but Livingstone said his information was corroborated by a half-dozen intelligence agencies in the United States, Europe, Israel and Arab countries.
He said the countries in which the airlines were based knew of the extortion.
Livingstone was interviewed by phone at the institute’s office, where he had just returned from Israel. He first revealed the existence of the extortion during a three-day international seminar in Tel Aviv on aviation security.
Livingstone said he would reveal the names of the airlines and other information in a book he has just completed on the covert operations of the PLO.
The book’s central theme, Livingstone said, is that “irrespective of Israel,” the PLO should be a “serious concern of the United States” since it has attacked and killed Americans, including diplomats.
In his talk in Israel, Livingstone said most of the protection money was made to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, headed by George Habash.
“Most of it happened in the 1970s and most of the money was paid to the PFLP,” he said.
Livingstone said that while Habash resigned from the executive committee of the PLO in a dispute with Yasir Arafat in 1974, Arafat benefited from the extortion through a “secret fund” and “knew very well what was going on.”
According to Livingstone, the U.S. airline made the protection payments for three years, and one European carrier paid for nearly a decade. The other two European carriers stopped payments after other Palestinian terrorist groups attacked their aircraft.
The PFLP operations chief from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s was Wadi Haddad, since deceased, who is believed to have masterminded many air piracy operations, including the Air France hijack to Entebbe, Uganda, in June 1976.
Res. Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv, head of Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former chief of Israel’s military intelligence, summed up the discussions.
He said an effective war against terrorism required good intelligence and concerted political action against countries supporting it.
He recalled that when he became chief of military intelligence in 1964, the year the PLO was founded, he was told it should not cause Israel concern.
“Had we acted effectively from the start and not been inhibited by the major expenses involved, we might have stopped the developments of the last 25 years,” Yariv said.
(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)